6 Interesting Champagne Trivia for Wine Nights
You’ve probably heard it said: “Champagne taste on a beer budget.” As in, “He likes prime rib and expensive wines but makes barely enough to make rent — classic Champagne taste on a beer budget.”
Not judging anyone who has such a taste, by the way. The point here is how Champagne is commonly associated with luxury and extravagance.
It’s a natural enough association to make. People pop it open when they wish to celebrate something. Birthdays, promotions, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, and the new year – they’re just so much better with Champagne.
Buy Champagne in Abu Dhabi, New York, Los Angeles, or anywhere else in the world – online or offline. Notice how much more expensive Champagne is than other sparkling wines? It can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
That’s not counting special, limited editions that can cost tens of thousands. For instance, there are only 35 gold-plated bottles of the 6-liter Dom Pérignon Rose Gold 1996, so a bottle currently retails for more than USD 60,000.
But, no matter. Even if a limited-edition Dom Pérignon is the stuff of pipe dreams, Champagne trivia isn’t, and here are a few of them.
1. Champagne is a proper noun.
Champagne is correctly written with the capital letter “C” because it is the name of a wine region in France and the wine from that region. Champagne is an Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) or a Controlled Designation of Origin, which means the name “Champagne” on wine labels is strictly regulated.
Thus, a wine that bears the name “Champagne” must have been produced in the Champagne wine region in France using the appellation’s prescribed winemaking procedures and the region’s sanctioned grape varieties. The grapes must be from vines planted in approved lots and spaced and pruned according to the appellation’s approved viticultural practices.
The appellation has rules to regulate every step of the process, from planting, to harvesting, to winemaking, to bottling, and even up to labelling.
2. All Champagnes are sparkling wines.
Champagnes are sparkling wines. In other words, they are fizzy and bubbly wine. This is due to the carbon dioxide accumulated inside the bottle.
All Champagnes undergo a secondary fermentation inside the bottle, and carbon dioxide is one of the by-products of this in-bottle fermentation.
While the bottle remains unopened, the carbon dioxide dissolves in the wine. But when the bottle is opened, the carbon dioxide returns to its default gaseous state, and the gas trapped at the neck bottle immediately rushes out. This causes the distinctive popping sound that comes from pulling the cork out of a Champagne bottle.
The remaining carbon dioxide escapes the bottle a little more gently. It produces Champagne’s many bubbles. There’s the mousse or foam that forms on top of the glass after pouring, the bubbles on the side of the glass, and the ring of bubbles at the edge of the glass.
3. Not all sparkling wines are Champagnes.
Sparkling wines are effervescent wines. As discussed in trivia number two above, it’s the carbon dioxide trapped in them that leads to their effervescence and causes bubbles to form.
Champagne is just one type of sparkling wine, however. There are many other types of sparkling wines. There’s the Prosecco, Lambrusco, and Franciacorta from Italy and the Winzersekt from Germany.
California, too, has a lot of sparkling wine producers. And to the consternation of the French Champagne wine producers, some Californian sparkling wine producers insist on calling their sparkling wine Champagne. However, as a rule, they use “California Champagne” on their labels.
Even so, unless a sparkling wine was made in Champagne using the region’s prescribed winemaking procedures, it is not Champagne. Even if a winemaker uses the same grape varieties used in Champagne and the same winemaking procedures (i.e., the méthode Champenoise), what he makes cannot and will never be Champagne but just another sparkling wine.
It’s just like designer bags. You can’t call a bag a Hermes Birkin bag if it’s not, in fact, a Birkin from the luxury goods manufacturer, Hermes. A skilled artisan can copy the Birkin’s design and use only top-quality leather to make an excellently crafted Birkin lookalike. But even if what he makes looks and feels like a Birkin, it still won’t be a Birkin.
4. Champagne may be made from white or black grapes.
Champagne may be made from all white grape varieties. In this case, the Champagne is an “Un blanc de blancs.” Or it may be blended exclusively from a mix of black grapes, known as “Un blanc de noirs.”
Whether the grapes used are white or black, however, all Champagnes are either white or rosé.
5. Champagne is always white or pink.
White Champagne is actually golden in colour, and it comes in many shades. Some are pale-gold with a green tinge, while some are old-gold with a touch of grey. There are also Champagnes in deeper, amber gold.
Pink or rosé Champagnes, on the other hand, can be the lightest pink or a darker shade of pink.
Pink Champagne may be made by macerating whole, black grapes. In this method, the grape skins “bleed” some colour into the wine.
Rosés may also be made by simply blending white wine with “still” or non-effervescent red wine. The winemaker makes still red wine from black grapes then adds a little of that red wine to the base wine they use to make Champagne. There can be up to 15% red wine in rosés.
6. Champagne can be vintage, single-varietal, or single-vineyard.
There are many possible variants of Champagnes. For instance, Champagnes may be vintage or non-vintage. There are also so-called single-varietal and single-vineyard Champagnes.
Vintage Champagnes are produced using grapes harvested in the same year. Non-vintage champagnes, on the other hand, are made using grapes that may have been harvested in different years.
Winemakers make vintage Champagnes during exceptional harvest years. They carry the year of harvest on the label.
Vintage Champagnes must also be aged for a minimum of three years in the bottle, whereas the minimum is 15 months for non-vintage Champagnes. However, most Champagnes age for much longer than these prescribed periods. Two to three years is the average for non-vintage Champagnes, and four to 10 years is the typical ageing time for vintage Champagnes.
One can make Champagne using different grapes as long as they are approved varieties. Winemakers often use Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, but other approved grapes include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane, and Petit Meslier.
Blending different grape varieties is the norm in making Champagne. However, a winemaker can create pure Chardonnay champagne. That would be a single-varietal Champagne.
A single-varietal Champagne is Champagne made using only a single grape variety instead of a blend of different grape varieties.
There are also Champagnes created using grapes grown from a single vineyard or “cru.” This can also be a named vineyard plot (i.e., “lieu-dit”) or a single-walled vineyard (“i.e., “clos”).
Creating a single-vineyard Champagne is a winemaker’s way of creating exceptional Champagne from a superior plot or vine-growing site.
Pop Open a Bottle of Bubbly
The next time you have something worthy of a celebration, pop open a bottle of bubbly, then add to the fun by sharing some Champagne trivia. But remember. You can call your bubbly Champagne only if it’s actually from Champagne in France.